At the gym the other day, I was on the treadmill watching Fox News with the sound turned off. Video clips were the usual snippets of dramatic tragedy—people searching the ashes of their former homes, Pakistani women weeping over the caskets of loved ones, photos of missing children. What struck me most, though, were expressions on the faces of the commentators and guests: they all looked hostile and angry.
That’s what I dislike about Fox News television—it’s a hostile, angry station. (I should add that the mobile print version doesn’t reflect that attitude—I read it on my cell phone all the time.) When my husband’s channel surfing, it’s instantly apparent from the next room when he happens to land on Fox News—the voices are several decibels louder than on other stations and angry enough to trigger the fight-or-flight response.
And that, apparently, must be the attraction for a lot of people.
As an only child, I grew up in a fairly quiet household and missed out on sibling rivalry and the squabbling that usually goes with it. By nature and habit, I may be more than usually averse to anger. I tend to avoid people who are habitually hostile and angry in their attitudes. Hence, I have an aversion to Fox News television.
Unfortunately, the problem with Fox News is not just aesthetic. I believe that it is a major reason for the extremism and hostility of so many of the well-intentioned right-leaning people in this country. In 1964, Marshall McLuhan introduced the phrase “the medium is the message,” and his analysis was never more relevant that it is today: the medium (e.g., the anger and hostility of Fox News television) embeds itself in the message. Inevitably, the medium affects how the message is interpreted.
To me, this explains how otherwise intelligent, even well-educated people can develop (and, against all evidence, maintain) a paranoid, “us-against-them” mentality when it comes to national affairs—and get so angry about everything. Fox News creates a reality in which a few brilliant, courageous, morally superior anti-heroes (the Cantors, Palens, maybe even—God help us—Cheneys) lead the charge against an evil, deluded, scheming majority who are apparently mesmerized by the Great Socialist. (It wouldn’t matter which Democrat won the election—the essential elements of the plot would be the same.)
I have a couple of problems with this. First, it’s impossible to be angry and think at the same time. Secondly, anger—like many emotions—can literally be addictive. Like all addictions, habitual anger drives the thought process, causing people to rationalize and justify their feelings. (“If I-we-they are so angry at _________,” the thinking goes, “he must be a really bad person.”)
When emotions lead, thinking is skewed, and it can be impossible to have a rational discussion with people caught in this cycle. The anger and hostility of the far right—stoked continually by radical media like Fox News television—make it extremely difficult to have a relaxed, mutually respectful conversation in this country between “conservatives” and the rest of us—including members of that newly endangered species, the “moderate” Republican.